The weather has finally gotten warm and now it is time to get outside and enjoy our beautiful outdoors with your best four-legged friends. As you are ambling along the path in Ute Valley Park (our neighboring park here at VCVC) you hear from under a pile of nearby rocks that unmistakable rattling noise which causes the sensation that Emily Dickinson so aptly described as "zero at the bone". Your dog's response to the rattlesnake, however, is "Hey, that looks interesting. How 'bout I go poke my nose at it.". Before you get a chance to react you have a yelping dog with a rapidly swelling snout.
What should you do?
Before you feel the need to further harass the snake, you might want to keep in mind that one victim is usually completely sufficient for the situation. In other words, a snakebite for both you and your dog will not enhance your enjoyment of the emergency, so leave the dang snake alone.
At this point John Wayne would probably produce a large Bowie knife and start carving away at the bite wound in order to make a big enough opening to suck the poison out. In reality, this only increases the pain and trauma to the area. The other reality is that even the sweetest golden retriever may be induced to forcibly remove your lips from your face if you start slurping away at that very painful wound, thus violating the only one victim per emergency rule. As hard as it is to not DO something, the best thing you can do is leave the snake bite alone and get the dog to a veterinarian. If you can carry your dog that would be best, but the 120 pound mastiff will probably have to hoof it on his own. On the way back to the car you can calm yourself with the knowledge that you are on the way to get help and you know what to do.
At VCVC we always keep some antivenin on hand. Antivenin is not cheap, but it can take a rattlesnake bite that would result in weeks of severe pain and suffering and turn it into a few days of swelling and tenderness. The key to success in treating your pet after a snake bite is NOT waiting. The more time in between the snake bite and treatment, the more tissue damage is done to your pet’s body. The sooner we get the antivenin injected to counter the poison – the sooner your pet will be wagging their tail and happy with life again. Treatment can vary from a simple consultation all the way to hospitalization. The best way to know what to do is to get your pet in to any office and in front of a veterinarian for evaluation.